Chantal Haines, Contributing Editor of British Travel Journal visited Monkey Island Estate with Ettinger to find out more about this hidden gem, perfect for a weekend away!

Image by Monkey Island Estate.

As soft, summer sunshine dapples the trees, finches flutter around the manicured gardens and another boat glides serenely along the river, it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic waterfront setting than Monkey Island Estate. The seven-acre isle on the river Thames has been exquisitely renovated by YTL Hotels – creating a sumptuous 41-bedroom luxury hotel near the village of Bray, Berkshire.

Though less than an hour’s drive from London, Monkey Island Estate feels every inch a secluded riverfront retreat. Cedric Horgnies, YTL’s Area General Manager, says that the island’s history is intrinsic to its ambience. “You've got so many new hotels nowadays but what makes the difference is the story of a property – its heritage and history.

Chantal Haines speaking to Cedric Horgnies.

“Working with New York-based design atelier Champalimaud for the interior and renovation, we wanted to evoke the island’s past decadence while breathing new life in with modern design and luxury.”

With centuries of rich history, the Grade I listed property was quite a challenge. In 1723, the 3rd Duke of Marlborough fell for the enchanting islet and set about creating an idyllic angling retreat on the land – a two-storey fishing temple and an octagonal fishing pavilion commissioned from Palladian architect Robert Morris. Today, the stunning Grade I listed temple and pavilion remain at the heart of the hotel today.

Image by Monkey Island Estate.

“It was key to integrate and preserve the history of the island. The Pavilion’s 18th century frescos – depictions of monkeys punting, fishing and hunting – were painstakingly restored by specialists from the V&A Museum during YTL’s three-and-a-half year renovation.”

The results have been worth it, with a rich colour palette and interiors linking to the island’s illustrious history. Guests visiting this riverfront estate today follow in some impressive footsteps as well. A 1905 photograph shows Edward VII enjoying afternoon tea under the walnut trees on the island, while Queen Victoria used one of the island’s cottages for her lady in waiting, and Princess Margaret attended exclusive balls at Monkey Island Estate during the 1960s.

It was key to integrate and preserve the history of the island

Cedric Horgnies, YTL’s Area General Manager

Most guest rooms and suites are located in the stunning, white Temple building where the first floor Wedgewood Suite is the crowning glory –  the capacious river-view, wood-panelled master restored back to its former glory and complete with ornate Neptune, shells and mermaids in high relief Wedgewood blue plasterwork.

Across the small footbridge, the hotel has three luxurious cottages for rental for private groups. As always, history is never far from hand, with one of the cottages having played host to Edward Elgar when he stayed at Monkey Island Estate. The composer famously worked on his First Symphony and the same cottage would, decades later, also become former British Formula One racing driver Sir Stirling Moss’s home.

Image by Monkey Island Estate.

“This riverfront setting is just so fantastic,” Horgnies enthuses. “We have our own luxury Floating Spa, located on a royal-blue barge moored at the end of the hotel’s lawns, where treatments draw inspiration from historical homemade botanicals. It’s a really great touch – and another connection to the water.

“When you visit Monkey Island Estate, you come here to experience something different and bespoke,” explains Horgnies. “The same can be said for Ettinger. Customers can see and appreciate the work and legacy that goes into each product. Ettinger fits well with our luxury-minded travellers as there is a strong appeal for craftsmanship and heritage. You can see the passion that goes into the products.”

Image by Monkey Island Estate.

Working in the luxury hotel market, Horgnies travels for business and says that classic luggage and well-made accessories that set the right tone are always a welcome companion.

“Personally, I love heritage British brands,” he says. “I like to see and feel the quality of pieces I own. Ettinger has stayed true to its roots and it shows – by not outsourcing, the craft is still at the core of what the brand does. I do like to travel with quality luggage particularly when at work or anytime I’m away from the sticky fingers of my young family!”

“With Ettinger and Monkey Island Estate the crossover was clear, the passion they have for craftsmanship, detail and design is very much what we are about. For our British properties, it is important to us that we celebrate those quintessentially British elements.

“Customers can experience so much here. One of my best tips would be to charter our stunning wooden launch, the Dragonfly, for a cruise along the river here,” he says. “There are so many gorgeous destinations ­– head to Marlow, Windsor, Ascot or Henley, enjoy afternoon tea onboard, lunch or a romantic sunset cruise with champagne. Cruise up to Windsor by boat and we can organise a horse and carriage for you upon arrival, or arrive by boat to Ascot Races or Henley Regatta. It is the perfect way to enjoy the surrounding locales and society events.”

Monkey Island Estate's river views are not the only wow factor around these parts. The hotel is located in Bray – a village with a veritable constellation of Michelin stars thanks to Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Fat Duck, his one-star Hind’s Head coaching inn and the Roux family’s iconic three-star Waterside Inn.

“It’s a culinary magnet for travellers. Guests will often stay with us for a few nights while experiencing the Michelin eateries and enjoy an evening in our brasserie for something a little more relaxed. For something truly special, if guests have secured a table at the Waterside Inn, we can arrange to take them up to the restaurant by boat and moor right outside.”

Image by Monkey Island Estate.

Up river in the Georgian town of Marlow, Tom Kerridge’s Hand & Flowers remains the UK’s only two Michelin star pub, and is another highlight to try.

“We can also arrange local wine tours at Harrow & Hope, which supplies the stunning sparkling wine found at our Brasserie and Monkey Bar, or a tour of the Windsor & Eton brewery where the Monkey Island Pilsner is brewed. For something a little different, EJ Churchill, an award-winning British shoot ground, is only around 20 minutes’ away where guests can enjoy a clay shooting experience in the stunning West Wycombe Estate.”

But guests may well opt to simply enjoy the bucolic bliss of Monkey Island Estate itself.  “We like guests to come away with memories. So whether that’s an afternoon tea or champagne star gazing at one of our private shepherd’s huts or simply savouring the waterfront views and strolling in the peaceful gardens, we know the spirit of Monkey Island Estate will captivate one and all.”

  Written by Chantal Haines, Contributing Editor of British Travel Journal.